Court rejects challenge to government’s requirement for gun dealers to report multiple sales of semi-automatic weapons
The National Rifle Association has suffered a rare setback in its crusade to block new gun regulations after a federal appeals court allowed the U.S. government to go ahead with a plan to reduce the smuggling of semi-automatic weapons across the Mexican border.
The new rules, introduced by Barack Obama under his executive powers in July 2011, require gun dealers located in states abutting the border to report to federal officials any multiple sales of semi-automatic rifles such as AK-47s to individuals within a five-day period. The administration presented the requirement as a justified move to “detect and disrupt the illegal weapons trafficking networks” operating in Mexico.
The obligation to report such multiple sales would apply to all gun dealers in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas in an attempt to cut off the supply of military-style weapons being smuggled into Mexico. The north of Mexico is being sapped by a virtual war between law enforcement and drug cartels.
But the NRA under the leadership of Wayne LaPierre vociferously objected to the plan, complaining that the measure was a ruse by Obama to introduce a register of gun sales via the back door.
The NRA lodged a lawsuit seeking to block the new regulations. It was supported by its sister pro-gun rights group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is based in Newtown, Connecticut, the scene of the Sandy Hook school tragedy where 20 young children and six of their carers were killed in a mass shooting last December.
LaPierre has repeatedly raised the prospect of a national gun registry as a key element of his campaigning against any attempt to tighten America’s notoriously lapse gun laws. He used the exact same argument to help defeat a recent Senate bill that would have extended FBI background checks to all gun sales.
In February, for instance, LaPierre told a gun convention in Utah: “This so-called universal background check is aimed at one thing: registering your guns. And when another tragic opportunity presents itself, that registry will be used to confiscate your guns.”
Three federal judges sitting on the U.S. court of appeals for the DC circuit ruled unanimously that they would allow the Obama administration to press ahead with implementing the new reporting rules along the Mexican border despite the NRA and NSSF’s attempts to stop it.
Crucially, the judges rejected out of hand the NRA’s argument that the new reporting obligations amount to a registry of gun sales. Under the scheme, officials of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) would only demand records from gun dealers in the four border states, and within those cases only on a tightly limited basis, the court ruled.
The judgment said that the information required “does not come close to creating a ‘national firearms registry’.”
The NRA can now take its complaint to the US supreme court. But the appeals court ruling amounts to a highly unusual and possibly significant defeat for the gun lobby that is likely to encourage campaigners for greater gun controls to redouble their efforts.